An unfortunate “tern” of events…Part 1.
By: Sabrina Cobb
Hurricane season is upon us here on the Alabama coast. On June 7th, tropical storm Cristobal made landfall over southeastern Louisiana. Cristobal’s angle of approach brought heavy rain, high wind, and significant storm surge to the coastal region of Alabama. Mobile county experienced the highest amount of rainfall with amounts surpassing seven inches. Wind gusts of 50+ mph were observed across most of the coast with the strongest winds along the coastline of Mobile Bay. Coastal flooding was reported on several of our barrier and nearshore islands including Dauphin Island, Tern Island, Marsh Island, and Coffee Island, as well as the Gulf Shores area.
On Tuesday June 9th, Olivia and I set out to assess the impact of Cristobal at accessible areas. I surveyed parts of Dauphin Island with volunteer Andrew Haffenden, where we had to wade through a couple of tide pools to access the beach. Several of the dunes had been reduced in size and the standing water was almost knee deep in some areas near the condos and boardwalk. During the survey we observed several black skimmers loafing as well as a couple “skimming” the surf-zone for small fish.
As we made it a little further to the west, we spotted two snowy plovers foraging along the shoreline! The two birds appeared to be a breeding pair as they were exhibiting territorial behavior and calling to one another. One of the snowy plovers observed had color bands on its legs. This is a method used by ornithologists to help identify a specific bird and track the bird’s movement from place to place.
During our survey we documented twenty different avian species including an unexpected visitor- the magnificent frigatebird! Sometimes after tropical storms roll through, pelagic sea birds commonly found in tropic regions will be pushed up to our area giving us a rare and special encounter!
Unfortunately, during our survey of the eastern part of Dauphin Island, we were unable to locate the recently hatched snowy plover chick or the parent birds. One of the many challenges these vulnerable shorebirds face is extreme weather events. As climate change continues, we can only expect an increase in frequency and intensity of these natural disasters making our beach-nesting birds even more vulnerable than they already are.
Curious about how you can volunteer with us? Please feel free to reach out to staff via email, found at alaudubon.org/staff.